Washington, DC (March 10, 2022)—Recorded music revenues in the United States grew a very healthy 23% in 2021, totaling a record $14.99 billion according to the RIAA, driven by paid streaming subscriptions and big gains in vinyl and even CD sales—but there’s a caveat.
That topline figure of $15 billion is impressive and represents the highest annual revenue in the history of the RIAA, beating out 1999’s all-time record of $14.6 billion. However, as Mitch Glazer, the organization’s CEO and chairman, points out in his exclusive op-ed in Music Business Worldwide, “[I]n inflation-adjusted dollars, last year’s figure is 37% lower than it was in 1999. We still have plenty of room to grow.”
According to the RIAA’s year-end 2021 revenue statistics, all major formats of music grew versus the prior year with the exception of digital downloads. Streaming, which includes paid subscriptions, ad-supported music streaming services, digital and customized radio, and licenses for music on Facebook and digital fitness apps, was the single biggest driver of revenues.
In 2021, total streaming revenues grew 24% to total $12.4 billion and accounted for 83% of total revenues, a similar level to 2020. Revenues from paid subscriptions increased for the sixth straight year, growing 23% to $9.5 billion, and now account for over 75% of streaming revenues and nearly two-thirds of all revenues. U.S. TikTok music revenues are included in the streaming revenue stats for the first time this year.
For the first time since 1996, both vinyl and CD sales grew in the same year. Vinyl accounted for 63% of revenues from physical formats, with sales surging 61% in 2021—a 15th consecutive year of growth—to surpass $1 billion in revenue for the first time since 1986. Overall, vinyl accounted for 7% of total music revenues.
After a poor performance in 2020 due to the pandemic, which closed retailers and halted touring, CD sales posted a 21% year-over-year increase in revenue—the first since 2004—to $584 million. CD sales have not fully rebounded, however, as that is still slightly below 2019’s figure of $615 million.
As for those dipping digital download sales, the report indicates that revenues were down 12% to $587 million and accounted for just 4% of U.S. recorded music revenues in 2021, down from a peak of 43% of revenues in 2012.